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Taco Charlton scouting report: banking on hope

He may look the part, but does Charlton bring enough to the table as a complete player to warrant a top 10 selection in the NFL Draft?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about how the Bengals need to find a different type of edge player in this year’s NFL Draft. Currently, the Bengals have four defensive ends under contract for the 2017 season, and the average height and weight of those four is about 6’6” and 277 pounds. According to, that is an inch and five pounds off of what Taco Charlton is listed at. It’s safe to say physically, Charlton would fit right with what the Bengals like at defensive end. But does he bring anything to the Bengals’ defensive line that the team doesn’t already have?

Charlton was an intriguing evaluation because it’s hard to definitively identify what he does well on a consistent basis. The narrative surrounding him is that he is a very well rounded athlete for his impressive size, and that he is a cerebral and stout run defender. And while I saw that athleticism and ability to stop the run here and there, it was really in spurts and flashes.

Charlton’s strengths and weaknesses are clouded by the inconsistent nature of his performance this past season, so instead of explaining what he does and doesn’t do well, let’s just go through how he fared as a two-dimensional, three down player.

Pass Rushing

2016 was Charlton’s best year from a production standpoint, as he built on his 3.5 and 5.5 sack seasons as a sophomore and junior respectively, and strung together 10 sacks for his senior campaign. He got most of that production beating tackles around the edge, and he can bend pretty well for his size. But, he wasn’t that consistent with it and won’t win as often like that in the NFL without an elite first step, which he doesn’t possess. Charlton is more of a finesse pass rusher, and manages to get production without using many power moves; when he tries to convert speed to power, he underwhelms:

Charlton is well built and has great upper body strength, but the bull rush is made from the lower half. If he wants to set up a speed rush or a spin move that he likes to use, he needs to learn how to distribute that power when he meets tackles coming off the edge. The more he can do with power, the better off he is for meeting his potential.

Another tendency I noticed with Charlton is how much he dips his head at the beginning of his rush:

On this rep against Rutgers, any momentum he had at his get-off is lost when he reaches the point of attack because of how much his upper body is bent over. Try to run out of a four point stance with your head down to your chest and see what happens.

Pad level is imperative when winning the edge, but overemphasizing it is just as bad as rushing straight up like the back of a chair. I believe he did this from time-to-time in order to get low enough to dip around tackles, as a way of overcompensating for not always getting low enough when trying to bend. If that’s the case, it needs to get corrected, fast.

But for every one of those types of reps from Charlton, you get some of these:

This is the type of hand usage I rarely saw with Charlton, but you can see how fluid and quickly he swims past the tackle. It may have something to do with his alignment. Michigan is using an odd front in the form of base 3-4 formation, using Charlton as 4T, lining up right over the nose of the tackle. After seeing his film catalog lined up at 5T on the outside shoulder of the tackle, it begs the question as to if he fits more as a 3-4 defensive end, which he wouldn’t be in Cincinnati.

Run Defending

Charlton has desirable length and aforementioned upper body strength to set an edge as a force player on the exterior. Here against Penn State, he just rolls the tight end into his own pulling blocker and running back with ease:

His eyes are up looking at the ball carrier, his hands are above his eyes, and he stays inside the block to eventually force the ball carrier back to where he came from. Even against a tight end, this is discipline and well polished technique and awareness.

While he doesn’t set it up that well during the course of games, Charlton can pull off an impressive spin move, and here it helped him set the edge and force the running back into the gap fillers:

When acting as a run defender, I believe Charlton is a lot more instinctual and processes what he sees faster and more effectively. What I mean by that is, his arms and legs are more in sync and his movements are more calculated. Take this play against Ohio State as an example:

Ohio State had been running these sweeps and read option looks for the entire first drive of the game, so Michigan has their defensive line slanting to counter Ohio State’s first steps, which they’d been doing for the better part of six in game minutes. Charlton keeps his head up and reads the play as it unfolds, he re-shifts his direction, disengages from the guard, and closes in on the ball-carrier for the tackle on the line of scrimmage.

Charlton does not fare well against the read option, as he does not have the recovery quickness and twitch to make up for guessing wrong, but in the NFL, this shouldn’t be a prevalent issue.

Like as a pass rusher, his lack of power from his lower half can pose as a problem as a gap player going up against deuce and drive blocks. He has to maintain leverage and transfer that torque through his length if he doesn’t want to give up ground. But again, he is a well developed run defender, so he should be fine in that area.

Making his case for the Bengals

Charlton really turned it on in the final stretch of Michigan’s season, and those performances elevated his draft stock to first round status. But when scouts and evaluators turn on the tape for his entire 2016 season, they won’t see that player on a weekly basis. The size, athleticism, experience, cool name, it’s all there. But the reality is he still has ways to go as a complete defensive end, specifically as a pass rusher. And that’s where my issues lie.

In the first round of the draft, it’s really all about getting the most value out of that pick. The guys who impact the game the most are quarterbacks, guys who help their quarterback, or those who hurt the quarterback in the opposing uniform. Charlton is not a player who I think can immediately impact a team as a pass rusher, and that’s why I’m weary of the Bengals spending a top 10 pick on him. There’s no doubt that there are teams who just look at him and the way he moves and view him as a top 20 player, and that’s probably why he will go in the first round. But after watching his 2016 tape twice, my initial thoughts remain the same:

Defensive end Will Clarke came out of a West Virginia defense that used him as a 3-4 defensive end/tackle hybrid, and flashed there enough to get drafted in the third round by the Bengals. Cincinnati has been using him as a defensive end in their 4-3 for three seasons with minimal success. I think Charlton will test better in Indianapolis at the Scouting Combine than Clarke did, and that bodes well for him surviving on the edge, but it’s something to keep in mind.

If the Bengals decide Charlton is their best option at the ninth overall spot, they better hope the coaches can mold him into more than just another run defending big body.